Ever heard the saying, “Be sure to use the right tool for the right job?” That’s sound advice in the Army since most military occupational specialties rely heavily on equipment maintainers and their tools.
Although the number of Army accidental fatalities has steadily declined over the past several years, Soldiers are still injuring themselves in preventable accidents.
What many may not realize are these mishaps not only cost the Army valuable resources, but impact readiness as well.
“Tools are designed for a specific task and have limitations to their functions,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Kent Shepherd, senior logistics officer, U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center. “When you exceed their designed function, there is a strong chance that they will break and injure someone.”
Shepherd explained how. He once witnessed a Soldier put a sanding disc — with a maximum rating of 6,000 rpm — on a grinder that rotated at 10,000 rpm.
“As you can imagine, the disc exploded because of the excessive speed,” he said. “Fortunately, nobody was injured, but it could have gone very wrong if the Soldier wasn’t wearing the appropriate [personal protective equipment] to include face shield.”
Stanley Callender, equipment specialist, logistic assistance representative, U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command and a retired sergeant first class, has seen his fair share of injuries during his Army career.
“I have seen everything from broken fingers, eye injuries, back injuries and the loss of limbs,” Callender said. “Sadly, I have witnessed people die because they were not following the proper procedures while performing maintenance on equipment.”
“You can tell a mechanic by looking at their hands because they’re often really calloused and have cuts and scars all over them,” Shepherd said. “The most common injury mechanics get is busted knuckles and scrapes because their hands tend to slip off of tools as they are applying pressure. This happens more often when tools are not properly cleaned and are covered in grease.”
Shepherd added that the recent invention of mechanics gloves has made hand slipping less of a problem, but not everyone has or uses them.
There are specific guidelines for maintainers to follow. For Shepherd, a class he received as a new Soldier back in 1996 helped shape his maintenance-conscience mindset throughout his career.
“One of the first classes I received when I was learning how to be a mechanic was on the care and maintenance of hand tools,” he said. “The mindset behind placing this class first was to ensure mechanics understood how to properly care for their tools, and also how to properly account for them long before we ever touched a vehicle.”
Technical Manual 9-243, Use and Care of Hand Tools and Measuring Tools, explains the types and uses of a variety of tools including practical application of a selected group of tools, safety requirements, general care and limited repair.
“Users must have, choose and use the correct tools to do the work quickly, accurately and safely,” Shepherd said. “Without the proper tools and knowledge of how to use them, the user wastes time, reduces efficiency and may face injury.”
While the responsibility of safety starts with an individual, battle buddies play an integral role and often have an opportunity to speak up when they see something that doesn’t look quite right.
“A battle buddy looks after you when you don’t realize that what you’re doing could cause damage to a piece of equipment or to yourself and others,” Callender said. “Soldiers are frequently required to work long hours, in very stressful situations in-less-than adequate conditions. It’s your battle buddy who can make a difference and help you avoid a catastrophic incident.”
Some individuals believe shortcuts get a job done quicker. But, Shepherd cautions that when Soldiers take shortcuts, they are elevating the desire to complete the job above the necessary safety protocols and are putting themselves and others at risk.
“We all want to complete the job fast for one reason or another … trying to get home on time, attempting to return the vehicle to operation, fatigue, etc.,” he said. “All of the reasons to rush a job are temporary, but an injury or even loss of life can have lasting affects.
“Soldiers should always think about the long-term implications of taking shortcuts and assess if they are worth it,” Shepherd continued. “Odds are they are not.”